26 PENTECOST, PROPER XXVIII - C - 16 LUKE 21. 5-19
Today’s gospel contains “apocalyptic” literature - that is - language concerning the future, especially the “end time.” But there is more going on here than the “signs” that Jesus gives that will precede it.
The scene is the Temple courtyard. Jesus has just finished addressing a group of Saducees who tried to catch him in a theological vise over a question about the resurrection. It is interesting to note that the Saducees of Jesus’ day did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Their trap failed.
Jesus then points out to his disciples a poor widow who is making her offering and contrasts hers with that of the rich. But the teaching he gives concerning the resurrection and the widow’s giving of all that she had seems to have not resonated with the disciples. Rather they appear to be more interested in the building and its beauty and strength as reflected in the massive stones that go to make up its walls.
Jesus’ response surely shocked them, along with the Saducees, and anyone else who might have been within ear shot when he said: “As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” The Saducees took note of what he said and would use it against him at a later date when he was tried before the Sanhedrin.
Naturally, his disciples wanted to know “when will this be, and what will be the signs when this is about to take place?” Before Jesus gets into the details, he first gives them a warning. “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and “The time is near!’ Do not go after them.”
I doubt that the disciples, in their naive faith, heard or understood what he said. They were more interested in the details and Jesus does not spare them. It is said that the more details that are given the more believable the report.
Don’t worry, Jesus tells them, when you hear of wars and insurrections, these things must take place, but the end will not follow immediately. In addition, he says that earthquakes, famines and plagues will occur along with cosmic displays that will frighten many people, and shake their faith, but again, the end is not yet.
Then follows a key verse that often goes over looked, before all of this occurs, Jesus tells them, you will be arrested and persecuted, that is, put on trial for your faith. The disciples are not to be perturbed by persecutions which await them from the Jews and Romans, for these will be opportunities to witness to their faith in Him. And they are not too worry about what they are to say, they will be given the right words when the time comes to make their defense.
Their discipleship will be costly. Their faith tested. Divisions will occur in their families. Many of their friends will abandon them. But the promise of God in Christ is that by their endurance they will be saved. Can we imagine that these men who had yet to fully trust and believe in Jesus as the Son of God could believe in what he was saying to them now?
Can we imagine that the naïve faith these 12 lived by could possibly grow into such a mature faith that they would be able to endure all that Jesus warned them of and then some? Looking at the first four centuries of the Church’s life and all that it endured we see that the Apostles and those who followed them indeed endured and grew in their faith.
The persecutions that dogged the Church did not stop the spread of the gospel, indeed it could not. The church was built on the blood of the martyrs, and the earliest martyrs were the Apostles. As has been noted by more than one historian the Romans subdued countless Jews following the crucifixion of Christ, but could not prevail over 12 who were unarmed with anything except the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Somewhere along their journey the disciples forsook the details and focused on the promise. They remembered His warning about being led astray, of being derailed as it were, from their mission and purpose and instead concentrated on spreading the “good news.”
Jesus was trying to prepare his friends for what lay ahead of them. They were to go before their enemies and accept their fate without defense. They were to go into an uncertain future with a naïve faith trusting in the Promise of Christ that by their endurance they would be saved.
What leads us astray today? What is it that threatens to derail us from the path God has chosen for each of us to walk?
Do we sometime get caught up in the details of life, of what’s happening to us and or what’s happening around us and loose sight of the promise? We may never have to endure such persecutions and calamities as those the early Christians endured, but most of us, if not all of us, have or will find ourselves in situations in life that will test our faith, frighten us, shake us to the core and even cause divisions in our families. In addition so-called friends will abandon us.
Don’t be swept away by fear, Jesus warned them, and don’t think for a moment that you can calculate your own survival and triumph. His warning to the 12 is just as relevant today to those is who choose to follow Him. Our faith and our trust must be in Him. Our trials will be opportunities to witness and our faith will be tempered by them.
“Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him.” - James 1.
God’s promises are our Hope. God’s grace gives us the Faith to live by them. Both Faith and Hope are God’s gifts for those who truly Love Him and they enable us to embrace and hold fast to ultimate Promise of everlasting life, through Him who died and rose again, even Jesus Christ, Our Lord. AMEN+